A Message from a Macedonia Jail

June 2, 2019

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC

7th Sunday of Easter
Acts 16:16-34


This past Friday evening Alice and I had settled in for a nice dinner and had queued up a movie to watch. Unbeknownst to me, Alice was pinged with a NEWS ALERT on her phone. She began reading out, unexpectedly, “There was a mass-shooting in Virginia Beach, VA; 12 Dead, plus the shooter…” In a tone clearly conveying frustration, I interrupted her, probably more accurate to say I snapped at her – not my best self – and said, “Why are you looking at that? I thought we were watching a movie. I don’t want to hear about it.”

Alice then reminded me that I had asked her to keep me informed when things like this happen, since many times my days get away from me and I miss important news stories. Even with this reminder, I admit my tone didn’t improve. I didn’t want to hear about another tragedy at the hands of a gunman. I wanted to tune it out. I wanted to escape into a movie and dinner. Even so, as we began to turn our attention back to the movie, I thought to myself ever so briefly, “I’m going to have to wear that Orange Stole again!

So here I stand today, once again, in this Orange Stole.

There’s nothing wrong with the color Orange. I drive an orange car. It’s fun. It makes me smile. It makes other people smile, too. But this Orange Stole is another matter.

There’s no liturgical season identified with the color Orange. No Orange altar appointments. No Orange chasuble. And no Orange Stole. This is one of about 100 commissioned to be made and worn as a visual proclamation Against Gun Violence. While I’m glad to have a way to make this visual proclamation, I’m weary.

  • I’m weary from the frequency of shootings like this.
  • I’m weary of the thoughts and prayers with little meaningful action toward sensible gun control.
  • I’m weary from the angry voices talking over one another instead of to one another about so many things.

My guess is that you’re weary, too.

Earlier in the week as I reflected on the appointed scripture for today, the story from the Acts of the Apostles, when Paul and Silas were thrown into a Macedonian jail, it brought to mind a letter from another jail, from a Letter from a Birmingham Jail written by Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1963. You can tell from the 23 double-spaced typed pages, that he, too, was weary.

King’s letter was a response to a two-page proclamation referred to as “A Call for Unity.” It called for an end to the non-violent demonstrations led by King and others in Birmingham. It asserted that these demonstrations were “disturbing the peace” and initiated by “outsider agitators.” It was signed by eight high-ranking white Clergy – Bishops, Rabbis, and Priests – Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Reformed Judaism.[i]

In his open-letter response, King takes each premise in that Call for Unity and methodically, honestly, and masterfully shares his TRUTH. His words reveal weariness, frustration, and deep disappointment. Disappointment not only with “the silence of our friends”, but disappointment in the Christian church itself, “being more cautious than courageous and having remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.” He went on to say:

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment.[ii]

The Acts of the Apostles reveal many stories about these who were small in number but big in commitment. Thiers was not just a commitment to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and the availability of God’s love to ALL PEOPLE, but also a commitment to embody that message at every turn.

Having been beaten severely and thrown into the innermost cell of the prison, even shackled, they kept teaching by example. It says:

Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

When an Earthquake shakes the foundation and frees them, Paul and Silas didn’t look out for themselves and flee. They knew what would happen to the prison guards if they did. The guards knew, too. They would be killed for failing their task. So, Paul and Silas stayed, even though they were no longer bound. The miracle of the story, though, is that the other Prisons stayed, too. That must have been some powerful singing earlier that night.

This response by Paul and Silas revealed that they valued all people – the other prisons and even the guards. Paul and Silas were committed to respond in LOVE above all else.

  • This Love-response is what got the Guard’s attention.
  • This Love-response is what made the Guard ready to listen
  • This Love-response is what allowed the Guard to be open to change his way of seeing things.

They spoke the word of the Lord to [the Guard] and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night [the Guard] took [Paul and Silas] and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

That’s what TRANSFORMATION looks like.

We are at a time in this Country and in the Church when we are in desperate need of transformation. We keep having earthquakes, but they don’t seem to be followed by a Love-based response. These earthquakes come in many forms

  • Gun Violence – not just mass shootings, but in local neighborhoods
  • Systemic Racial Inequity – impacting education, incarceration, and access
  • An escalation of White Supremacists and hate crimes
  • Climate Change in an increasingly disposable culture
  • Economic Polarization – with the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer
  • The inhumane treatment of Immigrants at our borders
  • An unwillingness to talk openly about Mental Illness, leading to increased rates of addiction, obesity, and suicide
  • Sex-Trafficking, Sexual Harassment, Abuse, & Exploitation
  • Access to Affordable Healthcare…
  • and the list goes on and on.

These very real and very serious issues face a severely divided country and a Christian Church with very different perspectives. The one thing the Christian response seems to have in common is that it doesn’t feel Love-based – from either side.

These issues won’t be solved by shouting at each other. Like Paul with the Guard, we also can’t afford to abandon one another, even those we think are on the other side. We must see all people as children of God.


This Orange Stole I’m wearing has images of children on it. I got it when I was in Austin last summer, and when my niece saw it she recognized that the images are of the children depicted in a children’s book entitled Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?. It was written by Bill Martin and published in 1967 – another time when our country was deeply divided.

The book begins “Brown Bear, Brown Bear what do you see?” and the reply is, “I see a Red Bird looking at me.” Then “Red Bird, Red Bird what do you see? I see a Yellow Duck looking at me” And the Yellow Duck sees a Blue Horse; the Blue Horse sees a Green Frog; the Green Frog sees a Purple Cat; the Purple Cat sees a White Dog; the White Dog sees a Black Sheep; the Black Sheep sees a Goldfish; the Goldfish sees a Teacher; and the Teacher sees the Children. The ending has the Teacher asking, “Children, Children, what do YOU see?” And they reply, “we see a Brown Bear, a Red Bird, a Yellow Duck, a Blue Horse, a Green Frog, and Purple Cat, a White Dog, a Black Sheep, a Gold Fish and a Teacher.[iii]

These children’s eyes were open to see all these things, in all their differences, and embrace them all. They were even open to seeing unexpected things, like a Blue Horse and a Purple Cat.

This message was important in 1967, and it’s still important today.

May we be inspired by the capacity of children to see the world with fresh eyes. And may we also be inspired by the example of Paul and Silas who invited not only their fellow-prisons, but also the Guard to see the world through transformed eyes.

And may we as Church, not merely be a thermometer that records the ideas and principles of popular opinion; but instead, be the thermostat that helps to transform the mores of society.

May it be so, Lord. May it be so.


[i] “A Call for Unity,” April 12, 1963. Link: https://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/documents/ACallforUnityTextandBackground.pdf,  Accessed June 1, 2019.

[ii] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University website. http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf,  Accessed May 31, 2019.

[iii] Bill Martin and Eric Carle, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, New York: H. Holt, 1992.

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